The legislative Power in the Roman Republic

January 25, 2022

THERE were no rights to contest under the decemvirs; but, upon the restoration of liberty, jealousies revived; and, so long as the patricians had any privileges left, they were sure to be st ripped of them by the plebeians.

The mischief would not have been so great had the plebeians been satisfied with this success; but they also injured the patricians as citizens. When the people assembled by curiC3A6, or ce nturies, they were composed of senators, patricians, and plebeians. In thei r disputes the plebeians gained this point,E288A5 that they alone, without patricians or senate, should enact the laws called plebiscita and the assemblies, in which they were made, had the name of comitia by tribes.

Thus there were cases in which the patricians* had no share in the legislative power, butE280A0 were subject to the legislation of another b ody of the state. This was the extravagance of liberty. The people, to esta blish a democracy, acted against the very principles of that government. On e would have imagined that so exorbitant a power must have destroyed the au thority of the senate. But Rome had admirable institutions. Two of these we re especially remarkable; one by which the legislative power of the people was established, and the other by which it was limited.

The censors, and, before them, the consu ls,E280A1 modelled and created, as it were, every five years, the body of the people= they exe rcised the legislation on the very part that was possessed of the legislati ve power. E2809CTiberius Gracchus (says Cicero) caused the free-men to b e admitted into the tribes, not by the force of his eloquence, but by a wor d, by a gesture; which had he not effected, the republic, whose drooping he ad we are at present scarce able to uphold, would not even exist.

On the other hand, the senate had the po wer of rescuing, as it were, the republic out of the hands of the people, b y creating a dictator, before whom the sovereign bowed his head, and the mo st popular laws were silent.

Chapter 17= The executive Power in the Roman Republic

JEALOUS as the people were of their legi slative power, yet they had no great uneasiness about the executive. This t hey left almost intirely to the senate and to the consuls, reserving scarce any thing more to themselves than the right of choosing the magistrates, a nd of confirming the acts of the senate and of the generals.

Rome, whose passion was to command, whos e ambition was to conquer, whose commencement and progress were one continu ed usurpation, had constantly affairs of the greatest weight upon her hands ; her enemies were ever conspiring against her, or she against her enemies.

As she was obliged to behave on the one hand with heroic courage, and on the other with consummate prudence, it was requisite, of course, that the management of affairs should be committed t o the senate. Thus the people disputed every branch of the legislative powe r with the senate, because they were jealous of their liberty; but they had no disputes about the executive, because they were animated with the love of glory.

So great was the share the senate took i n the executive power, that, as PolybiusE280A0 informs us, foreign nations imagined that Rome was an aristocracy. The senate disposed of the public money, and farmed out the revenue; they were arbiters of the affairs of their allies; they deter mined war or peace, and directed, in this respect, the consuls; they fixed the number of the Roman and of the allied troops, disposed of the provinces and armies to the consuls or prC3A6tors, and, upon the expiration of t he year of command, had the power of appointing successors; they decreed tr iumphs, received and sent embassies; they nominated, rewarded, punished, an d were judges of kings, declared them allies of the Roman people, or stripp ed them of that title.

The consuls levied the troops which they were to carry into the field; had the command of the forces by sea and lan d; disposed of the forces of the allies; were invested with the whole power of the republic in the provinces; gave peace to the vanquished nations, im posed conditions on them, or referred them to the senate.

In the earliest times, when the people h ad some share in the affairs relating to war or peace, they exercised rathe r their legislative than their executive power. They scarce did any thing e lse but confirm the acts of the kings, and, after their expulsion, those of the consuls or senate. So far were they from being the arbiters of war, that we have instances of its having been often declared, notwithstanding the opposition of the tribunes.

But, growing wanton in their prosperity, they increased their executive power. Thus they* created the military tribunes, the nomination of whom , till then, had belonged to the generals; and, some time before the first Punic war, they decreed, that only their own body should have the right of declaring war.


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